Hamas Sweeps Gaza Elections in Show of Strength (REUTERS) By Nidal al-Mughrabi GAZA 01/28/05 08:34 AM ET)
Reuters News Service
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GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas swept seven out of 10 councils in first-ever
Gaza Strip local elections seen as a test of strength between the
Islamic militant group and new President Mahmoud Abbas, final results
showed on Friday.
The Islamists, sworn to destroying Israel, had boycotted a Jan. 9
presidential election won by Abbas on a platform of ending violence
to allow talks with the Jewish state on Palestinian statehood.
"Hamas´s victory proves Islam is the solution," blared a slogan from
loudspeakers as thousands of supporters celebrated in the streets
beneath fluttering green Hamas flags.
Abbas has been trying to win a cease-fire from Hamas and other
militants spearheading a 4-year-old revolt to allow the resumption of
talks with Israel and to avoid chaos in Gaza ahead of an Israeli plan
to abandon the occupied territory.
"Our people have a consensus on the choice of jihad and resistance
and the election has underscored that concept," Hamas spokesman Muhir
al-Masri told reporters.
Candidates from the Hamas list won 75 of the 118 council seats
compared to 39 for members of Abbas´s Fatah movement and their
allies, final figures from the electoral commission showed.
But while the results were a blow to Fatah, they also raise the
prospect that Hamas will join parliamentary elections in July and
thereby shift closer to the political mainstream.
Voter turnout topped 80 percent -- much higher than at the
presidential election for a successor to Yasser Arafat.
Local Government Minister Jamal al-Shobaki, a Fatah member, said the
high turnout showed that "Palestinian people understand that
democracy and elections are the start to the end of occupation."
Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, has
won many hearts in Gaza not only for its role in the fighting but
also for charities that help the needy in the absence of support from
the crumbling Palestinian Authority.
Hamas made a strong showing in municipal elections in the West Bank
last month and the group had been expected to do even better in Gaza,
where 1.4 million Palestinians live in often dire poverty.
Political analysts say that by taking part in the municipal
elections, Hamas is also demonstrating its claim to a share of power
ahead of Israel´s planned withdrawal of Jewish settlers from Gaza.
Hamas is debating whether to take part in July parliamentary
elections. Officials were upbeat after the Gaza poll.
"The results showed that our people are insisting Hamas take part in
the upcoming ballot," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. (© Reuters
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